January 12, 2012–The 2012 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, kicked off on January 9 with the Chisholm Challenge for Special Riders, an American Quarter Horse Association Equestrians With Disabilities competition. The event, with 81 entries, hallmarked the largest AQHA EWD competition to date.
?Everyone should be able to enjoy the thrill of riding an American Quarter Horse,? says Patti Carter-Pratt, AQHA executive director of shows. ?I?ve long been a huge supporter of the AQHA Equestrians With Disabilities program, and I was so thrilled when I heard about the outstanding number of entries that we saw at the Chisholm Challenge.?
One of the instrumental players in getting AQHA Equestrians With Disabilities classes off the ground in 2003 was former AQHA judge Mary Hopkins of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
?I became interested in (Equestrians With Disabilities) about 21 years ago, before there was a program, back when I was an AQHA judge,? Mary recalls. ?My daughter, before she died, wanted to start a program of handicapped riding. After her death, I took over and did start one called ?Equi-Able,? which I do here in Vicksburg.
?I bugged AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr. for years to do something to get some AQHA Equestrians With Disabilities classes,? Mary says. ?Finally, he let me start with a group of people on board and we started the Equestrians With Disabilities classes.?
Initially, the program featured three classes. In nine years, it has grown to include eight classes: halter; walk and trot hunt seat equitation; walk and jog horsemanship; walk, jog and lope horsemanship; walk and jog trail horse; advanced showmanship; and advanced trail. Aside from individual class awards, riders can vie for year-end high-point awards. Classes are open to riders with physical or mental disabilities.
?I?ve just been terribly involved with this,? Mary says of the program. ?I?ve judged hundreds of these shows; I?ve judged the Special Olympics before we even had the Equestrians With Disabilities classes with AQHA. I judged the first show that they had in Fort Worth, the first time they put on the Chisholm Challenge.
?I was at the first AQHA Equestrians With Disabilities show that was in Baton Rouge,? Mary says. ?I didn’t judge, but I sat there a while, and they couldn?t figure out how to do the pattern, so I finally went down and did it because I had drawn it.?
Mary was ecstatic when she got the call on January 9 about the historical marker for AQHA Equestrians With Disabilities.
?They called me from the arena to thank me for making it happen,? Mary laughs. ?Some of the instructors (from Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship in Wylie, Texas,) called three times because they were so excited to have the 19 horses in the arena for the trail.?
Mary vows that the secret ingredient to the program?s success is really no secret at all: it’s the American Quarter Horse.
?We all know that the American Quarter Horse is the world?s most versatile horse, and I?ve been through about every kind of breed that there is, but the American Quarter Horse just has the disposition to take care of these riders,? Mary promises. ?I?ve seen it time and time again, where I know that the horse understands that the rider needs help.
?The American Quarter Horse is the best horse for it,? Mary adds. ?Other horses can do it, but there’s nothing like a Quarter Horse.?
For additional coverage of the event, visit www.star-telegram.com. To learn more about AQHA equestrians with disabilities competition, visit www.aqha.com/showing.